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A mixed performance for Medvedev in G-8 debut
Japan G8 SummitMOSB 5476388
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, right, and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso speak after taking part in the G8 leaders, Africa and International Organizations group photo session on Wednesday, July 9, 2008, in Toyako, Hokkaido, Japan. - photo by Associated Press
    RUSUTSU, Japan — Russian President Dmitry Medvedev came to his grandest global meeting yet with a mixed mandate: Start mending ties with the West, but stand fast on policies set by his predecessor and patron, Vladimir Putin.
    His success, too, was decidedly mixed.
    Medvedev’s mostly solid performance at the meeting of leaders from the Group of Eight industrial nations set him apart from Putin, who cut a more confrontational figure than his hand-picked successor.
    But it was unlikely to settle doubts about his authority in Russia, where the popular Putin has formed power bases as the new prime minister and leader of the dominant political party — and has not ruled out a return to the presidency.
    There also was no public sign that Medvedev convinced his G-8 counterparts that the emphasis he has placed on individual freedoms and the rule of law will bring real change in Russia, where Putin consolidated and expanded the Kremlin’s power.
    Putin, a longtime KGB officer, built much of his popularity at home by reasserting Moscow’s global clout, and relations with the West have suffered from clashes on energy policy, jousting over influence in ex-Soviet republics and concern over the health of democracy in Russia.
    Part of the brief for Medvedev, a 42-year-old former lawyer, appears to be to soothe rifts and help further Russia’s efforts to increase its global economic and political influence — without backing down in crucial disputes.
    Speaking for a resurgent Russia at a G-8 session shadowed by soaring fuel and food prices, Medvedev vowed to use his country’s ‘‘growing capabilities’’ and abundant resources to help solve world problems.
    But conciliation wasn’t on the table for the missile defense system the U.S. wants to erect in eastern Europe. Medvedev angrily echoed Putin’s virulent opposition to the plan — although he stopped short of repeating the Russian Foreign Ministry’s threat of a military response.
    Medvedev did meet the West halfway on Zimbabwe. He signed on to a G-8 statement promising punishment for culprits in election violence, but he balked at U.N. sanctions against President Robert Mugabe’s government.
    Although he spent years in the corridors of power as Putin’s campaign manager and chief of staff, Medvedev had the air of a man still finding his balance at the top of the ladder.
    Sometimes he seemed ‘‘comfortable and confident,’’ as President Bush described him after their first sit-down meeting since his inauguration. At other times he seemed somewhat awkward or lost in the crowd. Still, there were no gaffes.
    There also were no signs of significant breaks with Putin’s policies. But none had been expected from Medvedev, who has described their political partnership as a tandem and said he will largely follow his predecessor’s blueprints, in substance if not style.
    Taking up Putin’s confrontation with Washington over the eastward expansion of the West’s influence, he reminded Bush that Russia adamantly opposes the American leader’s support for NATO membership for the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine.
    He also lashed out at the United States over the newly signed treaty allowing it to put a missile-tracking radar in the Czech Republic as part of the planned missile-defense system that the Kremlin says is a threat to Russia by weakening the deterrence of its own missile force.
    ‘‘The situation deeply distresses us,’’ Medvedev said at a news conference after the summit, promising unspecified ‘‘retaliatory steps.’’
    Medvedev, meanwhile, used the summit to advertise initiatives that would weaken U.S. influence and strengthen Russia’s world role: an overhaul of global economic institutions and a new security treaty encompassing Russia, Europe and North America — presumably replacing NATO.
    Medvedev’s meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown leader also brought no visible progress on disputes that have brought their countries’ ties to a low point.
    Kremlin aide Sergei Prikhodko said Medvedev told Brown the key to improving ties is to focus on the future. Translation: Don’t hope for a Russian climbdown on existing issues, such as its refusal to extradite the suspect in the killing of Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko.
    His fellow leaders had little to say publicly about Medvedev’s G-8 debut.
    Bush called him ‘‘a smart guy who understands issues very well.’’
    ‘‘I believe that when he tells me something, he means it,’’ Bush added — words similar to his past descriptions of Putin.
    Steve Gutterman, who is based in Moscow, has reported on Russia for The Associated Press since 2002.

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